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Panetta Details Iraq Withdrawal as Senators Criticize Failure to Reach Deal on Troops

Leon-Panetta

FILE: In this October 4, 2011, photo, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta answers questions during a news conference in Cairo, Egypt. (AP)

Sparks flew at a Senate hearing Tuesday over President Obama's decision to pull all U.S. forces out of Iraq by year’s end.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., confronted Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, suggesting the administration didn't try hard enough to negotiate a presence for U.S. troops beyond 2011.

"The truth is that this administration was committed to the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, and they made it happen," McCain said to Panetta.

"Senator McCain, that's just simply not true," Panetta fired back.

McCain accused the White House of failing to give the Iraqis a clear proposal for what it wanted beyond 2011, instead offering a range of military options that slowed the negotiation process. And he said he had personal assurances from leaders of the Iraqi government that a deal could be made.

Panetta said it was up to the Iraqis to approach the U.S. with a final troop number, and they never did.

Meanwhile, troops continue to funnel out of Iraq. Right now, only 24,000 U.S. troops remain, down from 34,000 three weeks ago.

The U.S. and Iraq were negotiating to keep troops there after the end of December, but the talks broke down over the issue of legal immunity.

McCain also said pulling the troops out of Iraq is a victory for Iran, but Panetta countered saying Iraq is "strong" and "self-reliant" and "has no desire to be dominated by Iran or anyone else."